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Thursday, 2 February 2017

The sad tale of Jennings Carmichael

I mentioned Jennings Carmichael in passing, when discussing the convicts who came to Australia, but I think it's time to look at her experience in a bit more detail.

To save you jumping over to that link and fossicking through it, here is what I said about her there:

Workhouses still existed in 1904, when an Australian poet named Jennings Carmichael died after her husband deserted her. Her three sons were placed in an English workhouse until Australians found out about them in 1909, and took up a collection to pay the boys' fares back to Australia. (See Jennings Carmichael: Her Children in a Workhouse, The Argus, April 16, 1910, p. 4,  and see other articles in Trove which are tagged 'Jennings Carmichael'. You will see the tag when you go to the link above: click on the tag, and at last count, 103 other articles will be listed: it seems we volunteers who do the tagging have been busy).

Grace Elizabeth ‘Betsy’ Jennings Carmichael, otherwise known as Mrs Francis Mullis, lived from 1867 to 1904. She was born at Ballarat in Victoria, but died in Leyton Workhouse in England after her husband deserted her in Britain. All in all, her life was one of tragedy: her father died when she was three, and her mother then remarried, taking ‘Betsy’ with her to Orbost on the Snowy River. Her three sons, left in another workhouse were later brought by public subscription to Australia, where they changed their names from Mullis to Carmichael.

The history of this shocking case can be followed in the newspapers of the day. A group of dedicated volunteers (the writer of these words among them) have been tracking down, correcting and tagging all of the news stories related to Jennings Carmichael in the Trove Historic Newspapers collection at the National Library of Australia. You can find these items here:

Much of the information on this little-known and unfortunate poet has since been provided by her extended family, who also provided the text of Let there be no tomorrow and Wattle Day Tribute, which appears on her grave in England.

Wattle Day Tribute

Ah, little flower,
I loved of old
Dear little downy
Heads of gold.
— Jennings Carmichael.

Let there be no tomorrow

Let there be no tomorrow
But one long fair today
Today of the ripen Autumn,
Today of the pensive May.
Let there be no tomorrow
Swiftly the moments fly,
While the sun shines o’er the valley
and the calm stream idles by.
Let there be no tomorrow
But here for a little space,
Let only the day’s completeness
Be felt in its fleeting grace.
Tho’ Autumn thoughts are round us
Colouring vale and hill
Yet dreams of the Summer are with us,
In all their sweetness still.
Let there be no tomorrow
Skies of transcendent blue
Let there be no tomorrow
Leaves of Autumnal hue
So sky, and leafage and valley
Ripe in the season’s prime
may hold forever a picture
In the golden frame of time.
Let there be no tomorrow
Into our sunlight cast
Changing the glowing present
Into the faded past
Let there be no tomorrow
Bearing our wealth away,
So sweet is the picture painted,
By the thoughts that are mine today.
— Jennings Carmichael.

My reason for going into it in more detail is that the English-speaking world seems to be descending into another round of the same vicious and cruel economic thuggery that characterised the world before about 1900. When later students come to look at the return of our most recent descent, they may find some convenient source material here.

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